Re: apposition

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Mar 29 1996 - 15:54:26 EST

On 3/29/96, Bernard Taylor wrote:

> Philoi,
> I have been intrigued by the discussion of apposition and predicates, and
> would like to elicit your input via English examples. I use the pers
> pron since it is one of the few examples in English where we have
> nom/acc/gen endings, esp. in the masculine (he/him/his).
> How would you translate into Greek the following:
> I see him, a good man.

I think (without hesitating, though maybe I should hesitate):


The parenthesized noun is really superfluous. Of course we translate this
sentence normally as "I see the good man." In fact, however, the article is
originally a weak demonstrative pronoun, very often that in Homer and
earlier Greek, and still that even in the Koine' in such usages as hO DE
EIPEN, "and he said ..." So the Greek really "means" I see HIM, a good
(one). We play tricks upon ourselves and translators, always imagining that
our English translation is what the Greek phrase "really means," but
there's something terribly illusory about this process, I think, and
sometimes it comes to the surface just how radically different the Greek
and English constructions are.

Of course you could say, hORW/BLEPW AUTON, AGAQON (ONTA). At least I think
that you'd probably need that participle, ONTA, if you really want to put
the sort of emphasis upon "a good man" as in your model sentence.

> Would "a good man" be in the acc (of apposition)? Or would it be in the
> nominative implying something like:
> I see him[. He is] a good man.

That would be different: BLEPW AUTON: AGAQOS ESTIN. You COULD say that, and
no doubt it would be understood by the Greek speaker, but I don't think the
native Greek speaker would formulate the sense in that way.

I guess that what this means is that in BLEPW TON AGAQON, one could readily
argue that TON is the direct object of BLEPW ad AGAQON is in apposition to
I imagine that most of our list-members aren't going to like this way of
looking at it, however.

> Like some others, off the top of my head I can only recall appositional
> nouns in the nom. Would the (koine) Greek speaker, for whatever reason,
> only use apposition in the nominative, or is my exposure simply too
> limited, and acc apposition does occur? After all, English is like
> that. We often hear non-native English speakers put words together in a
> way that we would never do, and while it is not wrong, it just isn't
> right to our ears!

I think you're really onto something here about radically different
structures which we attempt to reproduce in our own grammatical idiom. What
we ultimately do (if we ever succeed), is to understand the Greek (or other
foreign) grammatical idiom in terms of its intended sense and then
reproduce that intended sense in our own grammatical idiom. But I rather
think we often delude ourselves into supposing that the account we give
ourselves of the Greek construction in terms of our own grammatical idiom
is an adequate understanding of the Greek grammatical idiom.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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